ISTANBUL – The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will most probably start his third term as the most powerful man in tyhe country. With that he is on the way to become the longest ruling democratically elected leader of Turkey. Erdoğan became PM in 2003 and can continue in that position after Sunday till 2015.
During the reign of the now 57 year old Erdoğan the negotiations for EU accession started , the Kurdish question became discussable and the economy started to flourish. But opponents worry about Erdogans lust for power.
Erdoğan was born in 1954 in Istanbul in a devout Islamic family. A political carreer was not very obvious: politics and religion are strictly seperated in Turkey ever since the Republic was founded in 1923.
The small islamic parties in which Erdoğan started his carreer, were all closed beause they allegedly harmed secularism. The AKP, Party for Justice and Development, is the first party with an islamic background that resisted both military and legal pressure. The AKP survived warnings of the army and a court case that endangered the existence of the party. The struggle made the AKP stronger and turned Erdoğan into a hero for his voters.
For his opponents his status of dangerous man didn’t get any less. In 2002, when the party won the elections with a huge majority, there was fear that Erdogan would turn Turkey into an islamic state like Iran. The fear was based on the fact that Erdoğan and his kindred spirits who founded the AKP in 2001 all had their roots in political Islam. The AKP, they said, seemed liberal but had a hidden agenda.
In 1997, when the ‘Islamist’ Erdogan was moyor of Istanbul, recited a poem (‘The mosques are our barracks, their domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers’). It resulted in a conviction to ten months in jail for inciting religious hatred. In practice, however, nothing much became clear about Erdogans feared double agenda.
Reforms were pushed through fast, and in the 2007 elections the party again got more than fourty percent of the votes underErdogans charismatic leadership. The fear for a Turkey modelled after Iran subsided, but Erdogans opponents still don’t trust him.
Erdoğan can’t deal very well with criticism, both inside and outside the party. That makes the opposition be on its guard for a huge majority of the AKP. Biggest concern this time is that the AKP victory will be huge enough for the party to change to constitution single handedly. Erdogan promised to make the new constitution a national project. His voters cheer him for it, his opponents still don’t trust him at all.